Thursday, September 16, 2010

Soaring Singapore

I touched down in Changi Airport at about 3am this morning. Once again my inability to sleep on a plane has left me irritable and fatigued, not to mention downright anti-social. 

Although I was expecting it, nothing can ever truly prepare you for that sudden impact of searing heat and humidity. Singapore is 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, a fact that is branded into visitors each and every time they dare to step outside. While most locals hide from the sun and embrace air-conditioning at any given opportunity, not everyone is so lucky (see below).

In new suburbs like Marina Bay (built on land reclaimed from the sea), cranes loom while construction sites fill the field of vision in every possible direction. Exhausted and overworked labourers bathe in whatever shade they can find, before returning to work on building yet another shopping mall - Marina Bay Sands. It is said the national sport of Singapore is shopping, followed closely by eating. Shopping malls are a great place to people watch, and although Marina Bay Sands is still under heavy construction, the industrial air-conditioning was already working at full capacity, while the food outlets were about the only shops in operation. I found this to reflect the three essential pillars of Singaporean society; shopping, eating and air-con.

Singapore has also been referred to as a 'little bit of the west, in the far east.' If you confine your visit to just hotel swimming pools, shopping malls and Sentosa Island - that is what you'll find. However, taking just a short stroll down Serangoon road in the Little India district, you will find yourself in another world. The aromas wafting from competing restaurants are a pungent partnership between incense, tropical fruit and a variety of fresh spices.

After promising several taxi drivers to give it a go, I find myself at Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant at 19 Upper Dixon road. Although the restaurant is packed, I find no other westerners present - ALWAYS a good sign :) The clientele is local, with traditional saris mingling alongside designer sunglasses. The decor is simple, if a bit understated, but I soon find that here it is the food that is the spectacle. I order samosa chaat and am not disappointed. The food is heaven sent with an extensive menu including Indian, Nepalese, Chinese and Western cuisine.

After several hours of walking the city streets, I seem to have acquired the magical powers of Alex Mack - the ability to turn myself into water. I opt to escape the heat and utilize Singapore's extensive public transport system, known as the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport). Although I have no sense of direction, I find the MRT to be idiot-proof, if a little overcrowded. While nobody is employed to push and cram people into the carriages, the comparisons to the Tokyo Metro system are highlighted when I leave the Bugis station to find a Mos Burger franchise. I'm reminded of Tom Green's subway monkey hour, and search the menu without luck for the infamous 'ashtray burger.'

Perhaps it's just a regional specialty..

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